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Review of the Suunto Core

Hands on Watch Reviews Hiking/Outdoors Suunto


At WatchReport, we’re big fans of outdoor watches. We’ve reviewed several Casio Pathfinders, and today we have the Suunto Core Light Green. There are eight Core models, differing in case design and coloration. I chose the Light Green for both functional and aesthetic reasons – it’s the lightest of the bunch, with aluminum bezel and vented rubber strap, and I prefer normal black-on-white LCDs to the negative variant.

The Core is an altimeter/barometer/compass watch, much like the Pathfinders, but with a completely different design aesthetic. Before we start comparing, here’s a list of the features onboard:

  • Altimeter/Barometer.
  • Temperature sensor.
  • Compass with declination correction.
  • The pressure sensor also works under water, serving as a depth gauge. More on this below.
  • Alarm, stopwatch and countdown timer.
  • Dual time zones. The second timezone is settable to any time, and so will work in places like Delhi, Newfoundland and central Australia.
  • Display of sunrise and sunset times, based on you selecting a city.
  • Recording and plotting of data – the Core can save and display data for altitude/pressure or depth.
  • Storm alarm and barometric pressure trends.
  • Waterproof to 100m (330ft).
  • Hard plastic case and vented rubber strap. This version uses a custom lug with screws, so only Suunto straps will fit; some of the other models have bracelets with normal lugs that’d accept a generic strap.
  • User-replaceable CR-2032 battery, a nice touch.
  • Domed mineral glass crystal.
  • Bidirectional bezel with N/S/E/W markings.
  • Huge bitmapped LCD display with green backlighting.
  • 60g in weight, 14.5mm high by 50mm wide.
  • The watch uses a proportionally spaced font, the first one I’ve seen on a watch. It makes it easier to read but can be initially disconcerting to see the time shift right when the minute ends in one! You can see this effect in the top picture.

There’s a lot of functionality in this watch, but due to thoughtful design its easy to use. Suunto also has an excellent online demo that shows the features and the user interface that I recommend to you. The watch has three main modes, Time, Altimeter/Barometer and Compass. Each of these, in turn, has different views you select via the View button. For example, Time mode shows the time in the center area, but the area beneath it cycles between

  • Seconds
  • Day of week with Month and Day in the form of ‘Thu 10.9.’
  • Time in second timezone
  • Sunrise and sunset times – nice for hiking.
  • Stopwatch
  • Countdown timer
  • Blank space

While that’s displayed, the seconds run ’round the outside, just like the Lumi. Above the time, there’s a small three-segment display of recent barometric pressure trends and an indicator of the Altimeter/Barometer mode. The seconds ring is reused to show compass direction, active buttons and a progress bar when entering setting mode. Due to the bitmapped display, menu choices are spelled out, which makes operating the watch easy. ‘backlight’ is easy to understand where an abbreviation might confuse.

Here’s a comparison shot with a G-shock to show relative size. The core is wider but thinner:

Holding the Mode button shows the progress bar racing ’round the screen, thence to setting mode. It’s all menu-driven, and uses full English words. You can select other languages, too, Spanish, German and French are all supported. The full-word interface, combined with the button cues, makes this the simplest ABC watch to use I’ve yet seen. The logical layout of the menus and modes is a testament to the human factors engineers at Suunto.

Altimeter/Barometer mode is probably the most complicated on the watch. Like all ABC watches, the Core knows what the pressure and temperature are right now, but needs to know a bit more. Pressure varies with temperature, altitude and weather, so you need to tell the Core either local altittude or current barometric pressure. Usually, you just read the altitude off of the topo map before you start hiking. The Core has three operational modes here: Altitude, Barometer or Auto. In Altimiter, the Core assumes that you’re going up or down, and that barometric pressure is constant. This is good for hiking, but it can get fooled – I’ve had an altimeter swear I was descending while climbing a hillside due to an impending storm, so with all ABC watches a bit of caution is required. In Barometer mode, the ambient pressure is tracked and plotted, which is nice for off-the-grid forecasting before you set out to hike. Automatic mode does a pretty good job of switching back and forth all by itself. Due to the location on the wrist, the temperature readings are only accurate when the watch is left off your wrist for at least fifteen minutes and are therefore minimally useful.

Unlike the Pathfinders, the Core’s pressure sensor is also designed to work under water, and can measure depth down to 10m. It’s designed for snorkeling, which is a delightful touch and very welcome innovation.

The Alti/Baro mode also incldes the logbook, or electronic data recorder. As the user manual explains, this saves current altitude periodically and displays it as a graph. You can save, recall and view them, along with calculated values like ascent and descent rates. Unlike fancier watches, there’s no way to transfer them to a computer, but the bitmapped display is quite adequate for reviewing hikes.

Compass mode uses a solid-state electronic compass, complete with declination correction. Like mechanical compasses, it loses accuracy when tilted off the level, so you have to try and hold it level, which can be tricky. As expected, you can lock in a heading to track quite easily. Since the compass draws a lot of power, the Core pauses it after a few seconds of displaying a heading, but a touch of the Start button brings it right back.

Subjectively, this is a very nice watch to wear and use. The light weight, smooth shape and vented strap worked great when I took it along for a week in the Costa Rican jungle, working flawlessly even in stifling heat, torrential rainfall and darkness. The compass was spot-on compared to the instrument-grade model along, and worked under the canopy where GPS failed to lock on. The low profile slides easily under a shirt sleeve, and the large, clear display is effortless to read quickly. Off the wrist, it served well as an alarm clock, and even includes a snooze button!

I particularly liked the vented strap, which breathes very well and stayed put while hiking. The lock on the strap keeper, shown at left, keeps the tail of the strap from getting loose.

Retail price for the Core is $250, and they’re available online for as little as $175. I got mine at REI using my 20% annual discount and have been very happy with it. Recommended.

By Paul Hubbard


  1. That’s all fine and dandy. I too was really tempted to go for this watch. Untill…. I read the reviews on different sites e.g. Amazon. I turnes out that this watch is prone to have so many problems that it has totally put me off. A shame because the aestetics and functinality of this watch is great.

  2. I was very interested in this watch and bought it…….it worked for about 1 year and then completely died. Suunto would not replace it and like all made in China stuff…it is very hit or miss. It ate batteries like a crack fiend and was not all that easy to use. I took it backcountry skiing multiple times and the altimeter/barometer was not very accurate. I tired setting it many times and used Suunto tech support…..overall i would give this watch a high cool factor and a low use factor…….not recommended

    • I am amazedthat you found a Suunto watch that was made in china since ALL Suunto watches are made in Finland.. Sounds like you bought your self a knockoff..

      • No he didn’t buy a knock-off, many, if not all the Cores, are made in China.  And some did have problems, but the later models are performing great.

        • Are you sure about that? (Later models performing great) When reading new reviews (eg Amazon) they still complain about the same things as they did 1 or 2 years ago…I would really like to buy one, but the Core seems to be more of an “office” watch. Nothing you could rely on in “the wild”? (not that I would rely on any watch if it was a life/death matter, but it seems a ProTrek would be safer 🙂 )

          • I am sure that the later models fixed the early problems.  It’s been a while since I researched it, but the problem was even narrowed down to serial numbers… is buying after a certain SN meant that you were getting one of the post-problem watches.  Now, that is what I discovered after doing a lot of research on the internet… accurate or not, I’m not sure.  I own a Core, and have had it for over 2 years now.  It’s a great watch.  It works great and has stood up to daily wear.  My only issue with it is it’s waterproofness.  It is only rated to 100 feet and you can not press the buttons underwater.  It also has a depth meter, which I use.  Not being able to press a button underwater on a watch with a depth meter seems pretty… um interesting.  I ignored the warning not to press buttons and a few days after a dive I saw a bit of condensation under the glass.  I took the battery out and put the watch in a ziploc bag with a dehumidifying pack.  I haven’t had any problems, although the water was salt, so I wouldn’t be surprised if it corrodes inside sooner or later.  BUT that was my fault.
            It’s a great watch.  I use the features often.  The alti/baro lock is THE feature that separates it from the competition.  I also like the depth meter.  With it recorded below 40 feet though.

  3. Hi, If you had to choose between the casio prw2500, suunto core all black or timex expedition ws4, wich one would you choose?

    Do you recomend any other model?

    All I need is a good travelers watch with Altimeter/Barometer, Compass and Thermometer.


  4. brutal watch, even worse customer service. (Canada)

  5. Easily scratched face
    battery doesn’t last long
    mine resets all the time for no apparent reason thus proving to be un-reliable
    The temperature gauge is completely useless.
    Honestly, my iphone does more and works more accurately for altimeter, and compass settings.
    Tried to get a warranty and it was a NIGHTMARE, so many calls and transfers, and “go to the nearest dealer)
    Dealer wanted $50 just to process my warranty request…ayfkm

    Thanks Suunto

  6. Hi,

    for a great review….I would like to have one question. What is
    different between Suunto Core Extreme Edition Silver and Suunto Core
    Regular black
    (http://www.ebay.com/itm/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&… Does
    the Suunto Core regular black has a worse battery life?

    a lot.


    • Hi Schindler, I don’t see any difference in the specs listed on Suunto’s site. The only difference between the two models appears to be the visual/aesthetic elements in each models case.

      For a more complete answer, I would recommend asking Suunto directly. 



  7. I currently own two Casio Pathfinders and have owned others previously. I also own two Suunto Core models. The Suunto is the far more elegant implementation of the ABC functions. The menu driven settings plus menu driven uses eliminate guesswork. And the coolest feature of the Suunto is the altitude/barometer lock AND the Auto setting. The Suunto Core line has this feature – it is fabulous and works really
    well. You can set the Alti-Baro mode to “Alti” if you’re climbing and
    only the altitude changes or you can set it to “Baro” if you’re in one
    place and only the barometric pressure changes. OR, you can set it to
    “Auto” and it then interprets rapid/large changes in pressure to be
    altitude changes and slow/small changes to be weather changes. It then
    switches modes to lock one or the other accordingly – really neat
    feature and the built-in algorithms work great.


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